200-Year-Old Poop Shows Rural Wealthy Elites in New England Had Parasitic Infections

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Hazard & Caswell Bottles

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Hazard & Caswell bottles from an apothecary in Newport, R.I., which contained a medical mixture marketed as a treatment for digestion and other conditions. Credit: Photo by Austin Chad Hill

Study discovers parasites in fecal samples from the 1830s-1840s in privy on Dartmouth’s school.

In the early 19th century in North America, parasitic infections were rather typical in metropolitan locations due in part to population development and urbanization. Prior research study has actually discovered that bad sanitation, unhygienic privy (outhouse) conditions, and increased contact with domestic animals, added to the frequency of parasitic illness in metropolitan locations. A brand-new research study analyzing fecal samples from a privy on Dartmouth’s school shows how rural rich elites in New England likewise had digestive tract parasitic infections. The findings are released in the Journal of Archeological Science: Reports.

“Our study is one of the first to demonstrate evidence of parasitic infection in an affluent rural household in the Northeast,” states co-author Theresa Gildner, who was previously the Robert A. 1925 and Catherine L. McKennan postdoctoral fellow in sociology at Dartmouth and is presently an assistant teacher of biological sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. “Until now, there has not been a lot of evidence that parasitic disease was anywhere else other than urban areas in the early 19th century.”

Excavated Privy

The excavated stone lined privy when connected to the Ripley/Choate House on Dartmouth’s school in Hanover, N.H. Credit: Photo by Jesse Casana

In June 2019, a group of Dartmouth scientists led by Jesse Casana, a teacher and chair of the department of sociology at Dartmouth, excavated a privy in front of Dartmouth’s Baker-Berry Library. Earlier, a historical study utilizing ground permeating radar instruments had actually determined the area as a location of specific interest. The website was house to where the Choate House when stood. Based on historic records from Rauner Special Collections Library on school and other sources, the scientists report that the Choate House was built in 1786 by Sylvanus Ripley, among the very first 4 graduates of Dartmouth who would end up being a teacher of divinity and a trustee at Dartmouth.

In 1801, Mill Olcott, a Dartmouth graduate who ended up being a rich business owner, political leader and trustee, bought your home. For numerous years, Olcott and his other half and 9 kids resided in your home. As the research study describes, the Olcotts “would have been among the wealthiest and most educated people in New England” throughout that time. Nearly one century later on, to make area for the library in the 1920s, the Choate House was transferred to another location of Dartmouth’s school.

The Dartmouth dig exposed that the privy and its interior stone walls and contents had actually been unspoiled. A privy worked not just as a toilet however likewise as a trash, a location to dispose of food and other undesirable products. In the soil levels of the privy, the scientists discovered stratified deposits including various artifacts from throughout the years, consisting of: imported great ceramics; peanut and coffee stays, which were thought about unique products at the time; and 3 fecal samples. In addition, 12 Hazard and Caswell bottles marketed to treat digestion conditions were discovered at the very same soil level as the fecal samples, in addition to 8 bottles of Congress & Empire Spring Co. mineral water from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in a later soil level.

Parasite Eggs Found in Fecal Samples

Football-formed whipworm eggs visualized in the leading row, circular tapeworm eggs with a dark external shell visualized in the bottom row. Credit: Images by Theresa Gildner

“The state of medical care during this time period was pretty terrible,” describes Casana. “A lot of people probably experienced symptoms of parasitic infections but wouldn’t know what was causing them. Privies would have been getting a lot of use at this time,” he includes. “If people had the means, they would order special medicines to treat an upset stomach, which were really just tinctured alcohol that offered no medicinal benefits.”

Gildner, whose research study concentrates on parasites, ran out town doing other fieldwork throughout the Dartmouth dig however had actually asked Casana to let her understand if the group discovers anything that looks like fecal product. To her surprise, Gildner discovered that 3 fecal samples has actually been discovered. “In studying intestinal parasites, I am used to working with fresh material– not fecal samples that are almost 200 years old and practically dirt,” states Gildner, who investigated how to deal with the centuries-old samples.

After rehydrating the fecal samples, Gildner ran them through a series of mesh screens, from big to little, to filter out the larger particulates and trap the little parasite eggs. The product was cleaned and centrifuged and slides were then prepared from each of the samples. Using a light microscopic lense, the slides exposed that tapeworm eggs (Taenia spp.) and whipworm eggs (Trichuris trichiura) existed in each of the specimens. While the variety of eggs was thought about low by research study requirements, the parasite eggs corresponded throughout the 3 samples.

The co-authors describe that their findings are specifically striking considered that parasites generally choose “warm, tropical regions” instead of the cold, snowy weather condition that is particular of New Hampshire winter seasons, conditions which are generally considered unwelcoming to parasite eggs.

Tapeworms are parasites that are transferred in between human beings and animals (e.g., pigs and cows). The animals take in plant life infected with parasite eggs, the eggs hatch and the parasites take a trip to these animals’ muscles. The usage of raw or undercooked meat then causes infection in human beings. Adult tapeworms residing in the intestinal tract of the human host then lay eggs, which are entered the environment with fecal product, beginning the cycle once again. Like tapeworm, whipworm eggs are passed in feces. These tiny eggs then contaminate brand-new human hosts through fecal-oral transmission (e.g., the consumption of fecal infected food or water), typically due to unwashed hands and a failure to appropriately tidy food products.

While the scientists are not able to figure out if the fecal samples originated from an Olcott relative, it’s rather most likely that all members of their family were exposed to tapeworm and whipworm. The findings show that parasite infection did not simply impact metropolitan and lower earnings locations, demographics which have actually been highlighted in previous research study.

Casana states that, “I think that we take a lot of our health and infrastructure that we have today for granted. Our results show that even wealth could not protect you from these parasitic infections 200 years ago.”

“Tapeworm and whipworm are still really common today in various parts of the world and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, digestive problems, and poor growth,” states Gildner. “Although these infections are preventable and treatable, there’s still more to be done to help prevent these infections. Access to clean water, which is essential to good hand hygiene, and sanitation are two things that many people still do not have today.”

Reference: “Intestinal parasitic infection within a wealthy nineteenth century household from rural New England: Evidence from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire” by  Theresa E. Gildner and Jesse Casana, 24 April 2021, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.102990



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